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Work-Related Semi-Hiatus Through the End of May

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/07/2019 - 15:23
Hey! I have a book (The Last Emperox) that’s due reeeeeeeeal soon, so to avoid the world pulling focus on that, for the next few weeks (i.e., probably through the end of the month, possibly shorter, hopefully not longer) I’m going to be doing a semi-hiatus from social media and the Internet generally. What does […]

A Goal Mostly Hit

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/07/2019 - 12:00
Back in October I groused about my weight and how it was making me feel physically, and proposed that I should lose twenty pounds by my birthday, which is, as it happens, this Friday. Today I’m happy to announce that indeed, I have lost twenty pounds from my top weight! So that’s good. The slightly […]

The Big Idea: Rudy Rucker

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/07/2019 - 08:35
In this Big Idea for Million Mile Road Trip, author Rudy Rucker describes how he wrote himself into a bit of a corner — and what it was that helped him get out of it. His path is not recommended for others, but it makes for some very fine reading here. RUDY RUCKER: I always […]

A View Through the Backyard Maple

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/07/2019 - 08:21
It’s a very relaxing view.  No reason for this other than I thought it might be nice to a have a bit of tree and sky in our lives today.

The Big Idea: Lewis Shiner

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 05/06/2019 - 08:22
For the novel Outside the Gates of Eden, acclaimed author Lewis Shiner goes back in time, just a bit, to uncover the what it is people of his generational cohort have brought into the present moment. LEWIS SHINER: As I got close to finishing my seventh novel, Dark Tangos, it was time to think about […]

Nerds! On a Boat!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 05/06/2019 - 08:03
In the New York Times today, a story by reporter John Schwartz about the JoCo Cruise, which is the “nerd cruise” I and roughly two thousand other people go on every year, hosted by musician Jonathan Coulton. It does a pretty good job of figuring out what’s pretty great about the cruise, namely, its ability […]

Review: Avengers: Endgame

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 05/05/2019 - 12:40
(Note: No specific plot spoilers in the review, but I’m going to allow people to post spoilers in the comments, so if you’re one of the three people in the world who haven’t seen the film yet, you might want to skip the comments until you do.) Avengers: Endgame is a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience, and […]

By any metric... treason

Contrary Brin - Sat, 05/04/2019 - 18:52
Okay we'll start with a member of the "deep state" 
“No collusion’? I managed Russia operations at the CIA. Read between the lines.”An expert shows how hard it is to press spy cases in a country that demands total proof to convict… 

...though all our intel/FB/military officers can see what’s monstrous. To shrug aside such warnings you must swallow the “deep state” incantation – that nearly all the men and women who defended us from Hitler, Stalin and bin Laden are now, suddenly – more than 100,000 of them – are united in conspiracy against dearly beloved Rupert Murdoch and Vladimir Putin. While reading, remember who the writer was, how he served. This article forces your RASR to choose.
Oh, a side note: He cites the infamous American traitors and Soviet agents Bloch and Hanssen. Unmentioned is Aldrich Ames and the Walkers and several other Soviet spies who did us terrible harm, during the Cold War. What NEVER gets mentioned is a stone cold fact: all of them were republicans. For 70 years the USSR communist party tried to suborn the American left, and it paid off once, with Klaus Fuchs. But from the 50s onward, it was a complete failure. Effectively, the American left was of no use to Russian spymasters. So? In the 1990s they dropped all Marxist cant and symbols, switched to mafia-oligarchy, and suddenly every method that had failed in suborning the American left worked gangbusters on the U.S. right.  Ponder that.

Then ponder how the "deep state" enemies of the Putin-Fox-Mercer-GOP good guys also includes nearly everyone in the FBI and intel agencies and most of the senior and middle U.S. military officer corps, as well an nearly all scientists, teachers, journalists, diplomats, law professionals, civil servants... essentially ten million American - the smartest ones - are all united against...

== Treason at all levels and in all ways, down the line. ==

 “Trump once again requests deep cuts in U.S. science spending.”  Note: Fully HALF of all economic growth across the last 70 years was rooted in government stimulated R&D.  

Speaking of government supported “research…” Jessikka Aro, an investigative journalist in Finland, some years ago uncovered an unusual company in St. Petersburg, the Internet Research Agency, now known as the top Russian online troll factory. After she reported her findings on the Finnish broadcasting company YLE, she was mercilessly attacked by the same Russian trolls.  And the Trump administration has rescinded an award she was due to receive.
But it goes deeper. The War on Science isn’t just about climate change, or Trump’s slashing of the federally supported R&D that boosted half our wealth. The “deep state” treason incantation aims to suppress the millions of men and women who stand in the way of a return to feudal oligarchy, but there are also a million smaller cuts, described by Michael Lewis in his book, “The Fifth Risk:”
"In The Fifth Risk (the risk posed by incompetent government leaders), Lewis turns his attention to government data collection, including weather information and the census (which, as we rapidly approach the 2020 decennial census, also lacks a permanent director).
“Smart government scientists and techs have been mining this data to protect Americans. But Lewis reports (as have others), a lot of government data is now disappearing from government websites, data on climate change at the EPA, on animal abuse at the Department of Agriculture, on violent crime at the Department of Justice. "Under each act of data suppression," Lewis writes, "usually lay a narrow commercial motive: a gun lobbyist, a coal company, a poultry company.""review by Brian Naylor.
In order to get away with this, the confederate cabal must rile up tens of millions of dullard ingrates to resent all the nerds who at-least partly understand this new world… and alas, this includes not just the men and women who saved us from Hitler and Stalin and bin Laden, but those who ended plagues like polio and smallpox, got us to the moon and Mars and designed safe-cheap-luxurious cars than can last half a million miles. And who might, perhaps, if listened-to, yet save the world.
The Greatest Generation - who ‘made America great’ - respected expertise. They knew the danger posed by aristocrats and cheater-lords. Too bad a majority of their children are such saps.
== Why so much cowardice? ==
“The View' co-host Joy Behar says Lindsey Graham 'needs to find his testicularity,'” implying he needs to finally gird himself to help against Trumpism.
This is truly unfair. 

True, but unfair, since the only conceivable explanation for Lindsey Graham's behavior... and that of countless DC residents like "retired" justice Anthony Kennedy... is blackmail

The blackmailer counts on the victim's sense of isolation and loneliness. After Jeff Bezos defied a blackmail attempt, I had hoped that some others would step up - out of patriotism, and knowing that the first few to do so will be seen as heroes - beginning an avalanche that could take out the world's most evil men. Alas, we'll have to wait. 

These guys need to realize that someday it all will leak... all of it. Some other guy in town will reap the rewards - forgiveness and adulation - for breaking this criminal ring. Their only way out is to bite the bullet and use the one weapon at their disposal. The Truth.
== There’s method to the monster ==
Breitbart published an interview with President Donald Trump on Wednesday in which he suggested that his supporters in the military and police would rally to his side in a way that would be “very bad, very bad” if things get “to a certain point.”
There is more to this than just hateful threat and dystopian bluster. Trump knows that traditionally conservative military and police officers are fleeing the Republican Party in droves… along with every other fact or accountability profession. When this stream becomes a river, the GOP will be finished, because the saner and more decent half of U.S. conservatives will turn away from Fox-Putinist treason-propaganda and this phase of the Civil War will end in a rout.
One thing could save them… if idiotic FAR-lefties poison the waters, hurling contempt at men and women who share more values in common with us (love of facts and a healthy nation and saving the planet) than disagreements (over crewcuts and responsible gun ownership.) 

THAT is what Trump’s hateful message aims at. Egging Democrats to reflexively reject crewcut refugees from the confederate madness, making our tent narrower, at the very moment when we need it to be broad. To save the nation and the world.
And it gets specific, in the open. “Rep. Steve King posts meme warning that red states have ‘8 trillion bullets’ in event of civil war.” Um, hey Steve. Just how long does that advantage last, when you've made it be all about smart people vs. Idiocracy?
== Short takes ==
Are tech billionaires less-bad? At least they create value.
Libertarians have long pointed at Houston as a major city without zoning laws or land use regulations. And while I deem myself to be one kind (Smithian) of libertarian and speak (impudently & provocatively) at some of their events events, and yes, I do believe government can cloy and over-reach, I hold the heretical view – supported by 6000 years - that venality is a worse enemy. 
So? See what’s happening to Houston is a series of explosions and fires rock the area. 
Oh!  My life partner made this graphic in case Elizabeth Warren runs on a ticket with Kamala Harris!  And the WH stands for White House?  Running mates? Or maybe First mates? Wen Is? Wen His?
== Miscellany ==

Trump’s travel to Mar-a-Lago alone probably cost taxpayers more than $64 million.   An honorable billionaire would reimburse us.  (Or even pay for the damn Wall and then bill us when it 'works.')  But then, someone honorable would not rake in hundreds of millions in coerced overpriced bookings by foreign governments for empty suites at his hotels. And honorable Republicans would shun a liar who promised he’d work hard for them and “never golf like Obama.” (He golfs 4x as much and spends half of every day at the White House in “Executive Time, shouting at the TV. Look up the $50,000 VR golf room he set up, in the White House!)  

But then the issue isn’t Trump or even McConnell; your mad neighbors know they’re monsters and all the rest, too. They hug the TV shouting “Give me anecdotes about bad liberals! Please! More anecdotes‼”

An achilles heel for your Trump supporter. He can rail against Cohen and Sessions and Omarosa and all the rest. But Trump has been "betrayed" by more trusted factotums and "great guys!" than all of the history of 19th, 20th and 21st Century presidents, combined. 

Whatever the merits/demerits in each case, it proves that he is an terrible judge of character.  Take home lesson: Even if you like him, at least admit Trump hires only the worst people.

== Final note about the oligarchs ==

Oh, you oligarchs who think you can escape sharing our fate, in your bolt-hole ranchos in Patagonia, consider (1) climate change is hitting all these places, hard; (2) how do you guarantee the post apocalypse loyalty of your guards? (3) Is it wise to enrage all the middle class egghead who know virology, genetics, cyber and nuclear science? And (4) You seriously think we don’t know where every one of your Holnist bolt holes is located?

BTW, I have answers for all four. But it'll cost ya.

=========================================================  Lagniappe! ========
 == Culture can nail it ==
Our comment community here at Contrary Brin is one of the oldest and smartest on the Web. Here’s a cogent contribution from A. F. Rey:
“I heard a song the other day driving home from work. Christopher Cross' "I'm Too Old for This" from his 2011 album Doctor Faith. The tune is so-so, but the lyrics caught my attention.”

The willful ignorance across the nation
The screaming yahoos that rage on every station
It makes me crazy and I'm too old for this

Folks in this country used to strive to be better
Work to be smarter so they could understand
Now we idolize the clueless and the mean
It's hip to be stupid, just wear the right brand
I sound like a geezer but it's a disgrace
Try to discuss it and they get all in your face
It's raining morons and I'm too old for this

Too old to see the lack of compassion
Too old to watch it go out of fashion...

Too old to watch the men we elected
Sit on their hands when it's change we expected
So hard to keep the bigotry out of my head
So hard not to wish some people dead
I got to keep a hold on myself

Don't want this anger; I got to stay clear
Too much to do before I get out of here
I still believe in peace but I'm too old for this

Full lyrics here.  And the music here.

Let me add that we can no longer judge a song by its “tune.” 
Back in the 20th Century I predicted – and so did Spider & Jeanne Robinson in their Hugo-winning story “Melancholy Elephants” – that the rapacious rate at which we were getting great new melodies across the 60s through 80s would taper off, as all the useful, compelling melodies get used up. 
Alas, though long delayed, it clearly happened at least a decade ago. There are terrific musicians nowadays! They should be proud, not ashamed of doing wonderful variations on earlier melodic themes, or experimenting with rhythm and or aggressive poetics. But when was the last time you heard a truly original melody?. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Happy Birthday(ish), Smudge

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 05/04/2019 - 11:14
We’re pretty sure that when Smudge scampered his way into the Scalzi household last year, he was around eight weeks old. Which means that he was very likely born today a year ago, give or take a few days on other side. That’s close enough when it comes to cats, so I’m just going to […]

New Books and ARCs, 5/3/19

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 05/03/2019 - 16:48
I was traveling for two weeks, so it’s no surprise that we have a double load of new books and ARCs here at the Scalzi Compound this week. Which of these books is especially appealing to you today? Let me know in the comments!

A circular firing squad

Contrary Brin - Thu, 05/02/2019 - 16:12
From The Hill: Obama worried progressives will form a circular firing squad. He's right... but it needs better emphasis on the positive. Not "don't do that" but instead "Let's win mighty victories, first, before turning on each other." May I suggest: 

"Let's prioritize the things ALL members of our American Sanity Coalition agree upon. Accomplish those things first with overwhelming vigor! Once we stop electoral cheating, get money transparency in politics, restore the value of facts, get all children health coverage, stop welfare for the rich, curb monopolies, save DACA kids, get busy on climate change, restore our alliances and the morale of our fact-using professions... 

"...once we've done those things won't progressives be at a better starting point to argue for the rest of their list? Even if we then start bickering and negotiating among ourselves, won't it be a better nation and world that we made, while united? Better, saner and more ready to tackle tomorrow?"
I offer the list of consensus wants in more detail below. And you splitters are welcome to tell us which of those things you don't want, or that you actually belive the Biden wing doesn't want.

How can it be so hard to couch all this is positive-assertive ways? Nancy Pelosi told the liberal wing re Medicare for All: 
I’m agnostic. Show me how you think you can get there. We all share the value of quality, affordable health care for all Americans. What is the path to that?”
Nancy, there are better ways to act like the Fiscally Prudent Adult. For example, if we can't afford to do Medicare for All overnight, then go with an idea that was broached in the 90s... Medicare for All Children. Up to age 25. 

OMG, isn't it a blatant win-win? Ease the fears of every parent in America, ensure the future is cared-for and dare any Republican to oppose it! The route to Medicare For All is then simple. Once the fiscal situation is solid, amp the age limit up to 26 and from 65 down to 60. Then 27 and 59. Watch as the insurance companies suddenly fall all over themselves to reform!
Why do even the goodguy politicians have no sense of logic at all?
But Medicare for All Children is not the only item on a long list of democrat unifiers!

== This is not zero-sum, Democrats! ==
There is only one path to true victory... and that is Big Tent. Huge Tent. Welcome in more of the retired military folks who tipped the balance for Congress last year. Run tons of them in every purple and red district! Meanwhile let safely deep blue districts go full AOC, great! Run a Pres. ticket that will crush it with RASRs (Residually Adult-Sane Republicans) destroying the Fox-Putin confederate coalition so that the GOP party of treason gets smashed into pulp.
Will the DP then split into wings? Socialist vs enterprise-purple? 
Hell yeah! 
But only AFTER we get these democratic consensus unifiers --
Electoral reform ending gerrymander and other travesties, Election money transparency,
Anti-trust breakup of monopoly/duopolies,
End voodoo "supply side" vampirism by the aristocracy we rebelled against in 1776,
Medicare for all Children,
Climate action,
Consumer protection,
Emoluments supervision,
At least allow student debt refinancing. Start discussing more.
Restore some of the social contract set up by the FDR-loving "Greatest Generation,"
Restore postal savings bank for the un-banked,
Basic, efficient background checks,
Restored rebuttal rules on "news" channels,
A revised-throttled War Powers Act, and
Restored respect for the existence of things called facts and support for professions that use them.  

Is that a long list? Well dig this - the absolute core fact of our resistance. All democrats, almost all independents and a whole lot of RASRS want all of those things, so why not do them first? 

Anyone who screams "socialism!" at that list is screaming at our parents in the Greatest Generation, who crushed Hitler, contained Stalinism, took us to the moon loved science and built the world's greatest middle class.
Are there actual "socialist" things you want? Well, sure. But first do the things that *all* democrats -- indeed, by-far most Americans -- agree upon! It's a long list, and if we get all that, wouldn't you agree that you will then be better placed to push further? Or at least make a fair case, based on facts?
Then, after all that is done, should AOC lead her forces against the Blue Dogs? (She'll find them surprisingly willing to negotiate.) That is when America will be at least basically sane again, and from that launching point, fact-based debate can ensue, amid negotiation among adults.
You radicals, stay vigorous and volcanically active. But also prioritize your opponents! Control yourselves and show some discipline. Don't let Kremlin trolls incite you (again) into splitter-purism and eating our own. Let's work together on the long list of shared agenda items first. Then things will be so much better, and maybe the country will follow you further left.
== Get this through your heads ==
We can fight on two fronts.
The AOC wing is seizing blue districts away from old-style Dems they deemed insufficiently vigorous. Fine! Do that if you can! AOC’s oblique reference to FDR – in her “New Deal” – is brilliant! Not a single other dem – not even Bernie – has been smart enough yet to invoke the World War II or “greatest” generation, which could be our magic bullet to restore the Rooseveltean social contract that worked so well.
Only meanwhile dig it, fools. The only reason we have the House, and now committees investigating everything, is because of the 50 Blue Dogs who actually invaded purple and Red districts and took them away from the foxite-putinist Confederacy.
Live with the Big Tent... or we'll die by self-inflicted cuts.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 5/1/19

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 05/01/2019 - 16:14
First of May, First of May, outdoor reading starts today! Anything in this stack you would take with you for a little outside book enjoyment? Share in the comments, please!

Assange vs Snowden: A Tragicomedy. And the war on science gets explicit.

Contrary Brin - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 15:51
Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE
First, a bit that says it all, from a top Republican factotum: “Science is a Democrat thing.”  Um. They say it proudly, even explicitly, as when DonaldTrump just this week attacked meteorologists. "Trump ridicules weather forecasters for getting it ‘wrong the most’ when they made a spot-on prediction." 

They have to. Disdain geniuses who predicted the paths of every recent hurricane with uncanny accuracy 5 days out, saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Because virtually all of them (along with every Naval officer) confirm global warming.

Yes, science, but also every fact-based profession. Including medicine, law, teaching, journalism and the "deep state" enemies of the Intel/FBI/military officer corps (who are fleeing the GOP in droves, despite their crewcuts, because, well, fact and science (and climate change) are real. 
There is some guilt to go around. Any and all liberals who reject crewcut refugees from this madness, know this -- you are doing Putin's work. But if you head forth to lure just a couple of RASRs (Residually Adult-Sane Republicans) into the light, then you are doing your part to save civilization.
== Assange Theatrics and WikiTantrums ==
What a tragicomedy. We needed something like WikiLeaks (which I predicted in The Transparent Society). But this jerk turned it into a tool wielded by Putin against the west. He meant us harm. As we'll discuss below, In contrast, I don't believe that was ever Edward Snowden's aim.
What's astonishing is how little actual damage Assange and Snowden (two very different men, I avow!) did to U.S. processes or government or even officials. In a few cases, light caused some ruction followed by incremental reforms (more below). Which somewhat-guardedly pleased Snowden and drove Assange absolutely nuts. But no surprise there. Read about his behavior at London’s Ecuadorian Embassy.
Says Albert Gross: “Somebody has to write a farcical screenplay  (or TV series)  about this. The comic potential is too great. Sort of a mixture of two classic plays: The Man Who Came To Dinner and Molière's Misanthrope.”
And yes, some of my agency friends may fume about a few wikileaks harms… some spy methods revealed, some sources endangered or compromised. (There was one pretty bad steal from NSA.) But on any grand scale, it was reassuring to see how little “heinous” was going on… much less than Assange raved, or than many fevered folks expected. Take this discussion of “harms”:
“On the diplomatic front, WikiLeaks shared many examples of U.S. diplomats writing in unflattering terms about foreign leaders, causing the U.S. embarrassment.”
Um… I followed all this at the time. The Chelsea Manning leaks revealed a quarter of a million State Department cables and that was not good. Yet, what “unflattering” things were our diplomats saying? They were caught privately dissing vile dictators like Hosni Mubarak, despising tyrants and wishing they did not have to deal with them! These cables were outed just before and during the Arab Spring, proving that these vile dictators were not U.S. agents, but actually hated by our diplomatic corps. 

Result? Amid all the Arab Spring protests by students and liberals across that region, no American flags were burnt.
Thanks Chelsea! (Should she get a medal?) Seriously, that musta really stuck in Assange’s gorge. That and the fact that light seems only to help us, never to bring us crashing down. (Though I hope some “leaders” get seared into dust, by light. One of our innovations -- the leader is not the state. Much as the present Louis crise "l'etat c'est moi!" See "Trump team sues Deutsche Bank and Capital One to keep them from turning over financial records to Congress.")
What Snowden’s better-targeted leaks did was cause a partial (I admit insufficient) overhaul of the FISA process, turning the 'FISA Court' into an actual court with adversarial ombudsmen to speak against each filing. It's not enough! But it was a step in right directions and hence Snowden has some cause to call himself an “Ellsberg.” Moreover, Snowden openly avows his civil disobedience merits some punishment! (Showing a rare understanding of “civil disobedience,” which only counts if there’s some punishment! We'll blog about this, soon.) 

That punishment must be satiable and proportional in a free and improving society, especially if our standards change because of the civil dispobendience, as ML King changed our standards. 

And no, I am not calling them equivalent. I will not pre-judge, but will leave it at this: Assange and Snowden are two very different cases. Two very different qualities of men.
== A metaphor for the perennial liberal problem ==
Watch this biopic about Hannah Arendt.  (I was visiting scholar at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. My father sat next to her, at the Eichmann Trial.)
The biopic is a fascinating story about a rift in most progressive movements -- the choice between  complexity (moving progress forward by analyzing how things work, including the obstacles ahead) and ideological purity (mobilizing the forces of progress with simplified incantations.) I sometimes get in trouble for doing the former, though I understand the need for the latter.  
Unfortunately, the latter impulse results in the Good Side of this struggle often eating their own, and I fear it may do us harm in 2020.
A moment in the film struck me. Arendt has fled to America. She is critical of many of our flaws. But when asked what she thinks of us, overall, she sighs, remembering Europe, and says "paradise."
Compare her to another Jewish emigré Leo Strauss, who ranted that America should be more like the Europe that had just committed suicide with imperialism and madness.  Strauss trained most of the "Neocons" who fed the right's Bush-era imperialist ravings.  ... till Rupert Murdoch decided he could do without any intellectuals at all, and flushed them like toilet paper.
I guess my point is that we don't have to motivate our reform efforts by saying all is crap... or that there's equal amounts progress and crap... or that we've fallen backwards.  Clearly, every generation of (especially) Americans has taken on new issues of inclusion and with some exceptions (the 1870s and 1920s) risen to the challenge of widening the circle at least a little.
The classic liberal worry is that any admitting of our prodigious progress might lessen the imperative to forge ahead. But each plateau only shows us how desperately urgent is the need to keep going.  May I attempt a metaphor?
We're like allied prisoners escaping a sunken U-Boat, rising 90 meters, then nine, then 0.9...  and each stroke brings us closer to the light that feels like it is receding!... Because each stroke upward feels a more burning urgency and a sense that we're running out of time.  And meanwhile, some damn nazis are grabbing at the ankles...
Yipe, what a metaphor. But the point is that urgency doesn't vanish if you admit that you've come a long way. Indeed, that admission empowers! Try it.
And speaking of metaphors…

“I told you once before that there were two times for making big money, one in the up-building of a country and the other in its destruction. Slow money on the up-building, fast money in the crack-up. Remember my words. Perhaps they may be of use to you some day. 
― Rhett Butler from Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind
In contrast, this SMBC cartoon makes a seldom mentioned point. That consumerism is hard on the planet… but has lifted more humans out of poverty, elevated more children, and enabled billions of women to rise up enough to control and limit their birth rates… which has in turn fundamentally saved the planet. Ironies abound. But simplistic anti-globalism is not an answer. And the American consumer, especially, may be recognized someday as an agent of hope and salvation. 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

This Week’s Interesting Personal Achievement

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 14:37
When I was in Budapest, one of the folks standing in line asked me to sign his arm so he could go get it tattooed. Well, okay; I used a blue sharpie to do it. A day later I got a picture of the above tattoo, in black. And there you have it — I’m […]

The Big Idea: Clark Thomas Carlton

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 10:14
In the immortal words of Steve Martin, “Let’s get small.” How small? Well, in Clark Thomas Carlton’s latest novel, The Prophet of the Termite God, it’s going to be very small indeed. CLARK THOMAS CARLTON: Yep, it came to me in a dream, the Big Idea about a far-flung future where mini-humans live as the […]

The Last of the April Blossoms

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 08:24
One small regret I had of spending half of April away from the house is that the crabapple tree in the front yard had not yet blossoms, and I thought it was likely that I would miss them this year. Fortunately, the tree was still blossoming when I came back yesterday. They’re past their peak […]

Hello From Budapest

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 04/28/2019 - 11:58
Having a great time, wish you were here (this particular here is the Parliament of Hungary, which is very ornate). Tonight is for packing and tomorrow is for traveling, and I’ll have a fuller update of my adventures once I’m home. The short version is that our trip to London and Budapest was everything we […]

More incredible space stuff

Contrary Brin - Sat, 04/27/2019 - 17:01
Today it's the Poway shooting. Each day more evidence that our crisis is not about left-vs.-right, but a mob that's been riled-up against modernity.

And so... we turn to what should be the non-political world of SPACE! Yep, let's focus this weekend on the 99.999999% of everything in the universe that may be within reach of our grandchildren, if only we leave them a positive civilization.

== Cosmology ==
Phil Plait makes the discovery of a relatively nearby and very ancient dwarf galaxy sound like the most exciting thing since Battlestar Galactica got rebooted!

A central black hole (CBH) in a galaxy half a billion light years away has a mass similar to the Milky Way’s CBH, but has recently eaten a star, making it very bright. And a sharp lump near the event horizon appears to be spinning round it at half the speed of light! Another was clocked at 84%!

Reason to believe that clumping dark matter may have led to the formation of many black holes in the earliest universe… and their numbers may be large, today.
News articles miss the point about this newly-chosen, relatively inexpensive NASA mission. Every six months, SPHEREx will survey the entire sky in 96 color bands. That won’t give you a complete, scientific spectrum of any one object. But it will provide a very telling rough spectrum of half a BILLION objects out there. That’s with a “B.” This is not a system to 'learn about universal origins.' It is one dedicated to alerting astronomers: “These 10,000 or so objects are weird. Look at them closer.” Combine this with the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at Palomar Observatory that seeks fast-changing sky events and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile, that will deep survey an enormous area of sky, repeating every few nights, and what we’ll get is something I've long said we need - an incredible alert system to say “Huh! lookadat!.”

And see news about the OCO-3 mission below.
== Exploring our solar system ==

Cool and stunning and gorgeous. A SpaceX launch seen from the International Space Station.

Alan Stern and the New Horizons team have a great year ahead, revealing bits from the doughty space probe’s latest marvelous encounter, nine light hours from the sun. This brief image glances backward as the probe leaves the Ultima Thule realm. New Horizons scientists can confirm that the two sections (or "lobes") of Ultima Thule are not spherical after all. The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima," more closely resembles a giant pancake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule," is shaped like a dented walnut. 
Last year's interstellar visitor 'Oumuamua has a lot of scientists abuzz. The head of the Harvard Astronomy department suggests it was likely an artifact, perhaps a jettisoned light-sail. (Eerily like an event in my novel Existence.) Others now calculate that interstellar space may be relatively filled with rocks. "We find that there should be thousands of `Oumuamua-size interstellar objects identifiable by Centaur-like orbits at high inclinations, assuming a number density of `Oumuamua-size interstellar objects of ~10^15 per cubic parsec." That's a fair amount! Perhaps enough to make travel between the stars an obstacle course. See the sci fi flick PASSENGERS.
And...  JPL’s Young-Earth-Ocean-In-A-Glass, combines water, minerals and the molecules ammonia and pyruvate that are usually found near hydrothermal vents, heated to 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) and decreasing the oxygen content provided them with a laboratory model of the conditions of the "primordial ocean" … “showing that in geological conditions similar to early Earth, and maybe to other planets, we can form amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids from a simple reaction under mild conditions that would have existed on the seafloor…” Kewl time lapse. 
This article on crew behavior during long space missions suggests that onboard software systems appraise word usage and even body language among crew members to track incipient problems. Um, like a crew psychological profile? Will body language appraisal include… lip-reading?

The “Dragonfly” concept for an air-mobile lander on Titan is a major candidate that NASA may choose, this year.

Fascinating evidence that Mars had an extensive ground water circulation system feeding into deep craters for a long time.  

And I'll be examining ever more cool endeavors in June, in DC, as a member of the advisory council of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program.

 == Oh, no! OCO is gonna so find truth ==

There is no scientific program that has been more targeted for hate by the Anti-Science Party than OCO or Orbiting Carbon Observatory.  The Bushites sabotaged or canceled or defunded earlier versions, which finally launched over screaming objections from the Denialist Cult and absolutely verified that human civilization is filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gas that is absolutely warming the planet.

OCO-3 is about to be delivered to the ISS where it will pin down the facts even better, despite desperate Trumpist efforts to slash it. 

Why? Why the hate? Or the commands for NASA and NOAA to cancel Earth observation and even forbid use of the very word "Earth"? Do the plutocrats controlling that party truly seek to preserve coal profits in the very short term over their children's health or possibly survival? Are they so stupid they think their Patagonian ranchos offer them actual security, when the world wakes up, enraged?  (We know where the bolt-holes are. And you will never be able to trust your guards.)

Ask your nutty uncle how he justifies this. Science is the human future. And there's nothing more suicidal than the cultish hatred of smart people.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

View From a Hotel Window, 4/26/19: Budapest!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 04/26/2019 - 15:10
Today’s picture taken at a later hour than usual because we got in late and went to dinner with my Hungarian publishers and translators straight from the airport. It was a fabulous dinner. I ate quite a lot. It seems  unlikely I will remain awake much longer than it takes to write this post. Good […]

The Big Idea: David Quantick

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 04/26/2019 - 08:50
For his novel All My Colors, author David Quantick had his protagonist do a very bad thing. No, not murder. No, not assault. Something much worse: Plagiarism! Of a sort… DAVID QUANTICK: There was this short story. I could remember how it began and how it ended, but that was all. I forgot the name […]
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